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fosterlng-mother, but I cannot expect Turk, Jap or Russian to endorse my own conviction that England is the finest country in the world.
You will do well to weigh the circumstances of the case, Cornelia, and to take the advice of unprejudiced as well as reliable counsellors before you definitely make up your mind as to the destination of your fledgling, always keeping in mind the fact that, whether for good or for evil, the plunge into Public School life must in ninetynine cases out of a hundred be regarded as final. It Is not likely that Eton will accept Harrow's failures, or Rugby readily open her doors to a boy who has been found wanting at Marlborough. You may quite possibly have had your own way in the matter of the Preparatory School, Cornelia, and removed your boy from one to another, on the ground that the first school was either too large or too small, the climate too bracing or too relaxing, the discipline lax or severe. But your exercise of the power of selection has come to an end when Boy has once entered the portals, be they gloomy or be tliey cheery, of his Public School. True, you still have the old power of saying, "I shall take him away at the end of next term." But, pray, what is to follow?
It Is for this reason, perhaps, that Paterfamilias, more wise than strictly honest in his generation, has a playful habit of entering Boy's name for years in advance at three or four Public Schools, reserving to himself, sub rosd of course, the power of making the final decision at the eleventh hour.
Per contra the House-master, equally wise and not less honest in his generation, will commonly be found to have on his list the names of more boys than his house can possibly accommodate. It is a clear case of diamond cut diamond; but I am inclined to believe that my old friend Paterfamilias
was the original transgressor, and that the House-master acts in self-defence. The same gentleman who fairly bubbles over with indignation because his boy is either "called up" in May, or "postponed" till January, "when I've got the confounded fellow's own letter to say that he will take him in September," is careful to suppress the fact that two or three other "confounded fellows" have for four years past been counting with more or less confidence on Boy's presence in their respective houses in this identical September. How far the original interchange of letters between House-master and Parent constitutes a legal contract, I do not pretend to say. But we AngloSaxons are so jealous of our supposed rights, and so ready to invoke the protection of the Law Courts, that probably nothing but a guilty conscience— or shall I call it a knowledge that his own house is made of glass?—prevents Paterfamilias from assailing Housemaster, or, vice versA, House-master attacking Paterfamilias with legal stones.
You might put it before your husband, Cornelia, that, inasmuch as four years hence he will have to make up his mind definitely one way or another, it will be to his advantage—for doubting Thomas is never entirely happy— to do so at once, and to enter Boy's name for one house or one dormitory at one school. Just this much rope we may concede him, liberty to alter his determination if either scandal or grave loss of reputation on the one hand, or serious health considerations on the other, can be cited to justify the change. Both he and you may take it for granted, Cornelia, that for Boy, if he really means to work, the teaching power of every Public School, so far as Classics and Mathematics go, is good enough for all practical purposes. Accident or design may render the instruction in a special subject better at one given School than at another, but specialization is a matter to be dealt with later on. I have purposely left to the last a third ground which may not only justify Paterfamilias in changing his mind, but should even compel him to do so.
It is to be hoped, Cornelia, that both you and your good man paid due attention to the Preparatory Schoolmaster's "Reports" of Boy's progress. I am not alluding to those silly little printed forms, which are seldom worth the paper on which the headings are printed, but rather to the occasional letter intended for your private inspection, wherein the Schoolmaster really unburdens his soul. Remembering always that no man really enjoys the task of "crabbing" Boy to his parents, believe him if he lays stress upon the fact that the little fellow is very backward for his age. For you will find that the House-master in the Public School will rather thank than blame a parent who at the seventh, ninth, or even eleventh hour asks him to strike Boy's name off his list, where there are really strong grounds for believing that the young gentleman will be superannuated at an early date. In the crowded state of the more popular Public Schools, the survival of the fittest is the natural order of the day, and the House-master has little or no option in the matter.
Aut disce nut discede manet sors tertia caedi.
The last alternative, if not exactly as yet a dead letter, is in these more enlightened days commonly reserved for the vicious and idle rather than for the incompetent. Even a Keate, though by a course of flogging he might stimulate brain-power, could not create it.
"Do they birch at College?" says the Captain in "Esmond."
"They birch fools," says Harry,
"and they cane bullies, and they fling puppies into the water."
"Faith, then, there's some escapes drowning," says the Captain.
But I fear, Cornelia, that you must not expect your own particular puppy, if he chance to be the worst of the new entry, to escape superannuation.
Prendite pnecipitem, post est occasio calva.
Grasp your nettle, then, and even at the eleventh hour, if you have not done so before, ask the House-master, telling him your reason, to strike his pen through Boy's name, and try to send the latter to some school where there is no hard-and-fast rule of superannuation. May I put it before you that it is to the interest of the Preparatory Schoolmaster to prophesy smooth things about Boy rather than the reverse? So-called home-truths are often unpalatable; but it is better to listen to them now than to have them forced upon your convictions later on. You will And It difficult perhaps thus late in the day to find a vacancy for Boy at a good house in another school: a year hence, when having been weighed in the balance at Eton shall I say, or at Winchester, he has been pronounced wanting in capacity, the difficulty in making the change of venue will be multiplied fourfold.
The revolt of an individual against a system seldom leads to much practical result. But on the surface it would seem that Paterfamilias, and you too, Cornelia, have some ground for grumbling when you find that, by passing the Entrance Examination into a Public School, Boy, however irreproachable his moral character, has by no means established a permanent claim for maintenance there. Some schools insist upon the Entrance Examination at a period when Boy is presumably at his l>est—t.e., in the latter days of the term immediately preceding that for which his name is entered; others defer the ordeal to a time when the young gentleman is probably at his worst—i.e., on the termination of a long holiday. Under the former conditions Boy, more especially "crammed" Boy, may to a certain extent be able to pass muster as a sharper fellow than he really is; but in the latter case his ultimate rejection after he has once satisfied the examiners is almost unaccountable. It would seem to be the possibility of initial rather than of subsequent disaster, however, that prompts Paterfamilias to have two or more strings to his bow, therein following the precedent of the sporting prophet, who "picks the winner" of a race by giving the names of the two leading favorites and one or more promising outsiders.
Apart, however, from useless criticisms of methods and vain speculations as to whys and wherefores, the uncomfortable fact remains, Cornelia, that ability to enter a Public School does not necessarily imply ability to carry a Public School career to its legitimate conclusion. Without venturing into statistics, it is safe to say that a small percentage of boys are each year superannuated at several of our great schools. Nor is the Preparatory Schoolmaster likely to sound a note of warning unless he is convinced in his heart of hearts that there are breakers ahead. Mortifying as it must be to you, Cornelia, to have to change your plans, doubly mortifying where Boy's presumed incapacity is the reason for the change, remember the fate of the king who, in defiance of the prophet's warning, went up to battle at Ramoth-gilead.
But it does not necessarily follow that you need either tear your hair in despair or rush to the conclusion that you are the mother of an idiot.
"He seems to lack the power of concentrating his attention."
This is the polite rendering of the Schoolmaster's private opinion that Boy is an idle little beast, and in some such formula the unwelcome news of incapacity may be conveyed to you. The Schoolmaster, however, is not infallible, nor is his range of view extensive. Now and again the supposed incapable has proved himself a better man than the teacher who has sat in judgment upon him.
"Concentrating his attention" upon what? Latin and Greek presumably. There have been great men before now, Cornelia, who can hardly be pictured at any time of their existence as concentrating their attention on anything half so lifeless as these two dead languages.
"D—n your eyes, sir!" I once heard an ex-captain in the navy say to a man—a schoolmaster, by the way—who had ventured to smile at the old seadog's ignorance of a stock quotation; "I was serving my country when things like you were grubbing away in your Latin grammars."
One seems to picture Nelson the schoolboy dreaming of hunting the French fleet from pillar to post when he ought by rights to have had his attention concentrated upon the conjugation of "amo," ill-starred verb for him in the years to come. Unfortunately for Boy of to-day he cannot, like Nelson, enter the Royal Navy "without the formality of an examination." Unfortunately, too, it is required by our Public Schools that Boy should concentrate his thoughts, to some extent at all events, on a dead language. Possibly there is room for yet one more Public School in England, a haven of refuge for the destitute, and yet not a paradise of fools to which "wasters" and "slackers" might congregate. Rather should it be an institution where boys who show inability to grapple with the classics might enjoy the advantages of Public School discipline, coupled with skilled instruction in those branches of technical education which the Public School of thirty years ago entirely ignored, and of which the Public School of to-day merely scratches the surface. It Is futile work, however, to discuss an Utopia, and so let us hark back, Cornelia, to the arena of practical politics, and examine the possible reasons for Boy's failure to concentrate his attention on those subjects which the Public School of yesterday, to-day, and tomorrow usually exacts of him. What is it that is preoccupying Boy's mind to the exclusion of these subjects? If by any weird chance, Cornelia, your precious child is the victim of a gormandizing mania, and, like the Fat Boy in Pickwick, indulges in dreams of plump partridges and toothsome pies, then I fear that his case is hopeless. Modern society offers no prizes to a Gargantua, and unless Boy chances to be by right of inheritance a member of some rich City company, his dreams may never be fully realized. I am afraid, my dear lady, that hometraining was at fault, and that you must not attempt to shift the burden of the responsibility for this malady on to the shoulders of the Preparatory School. Boy is better fed there than he might have been at Dotheboys Hall, but he is certainly not encouraged to centre his attention on the pleasures of the table.
Is he by any chance infected with the game-playing fever? Is his mind full of cricket averages and bowling analyses, or of the weights and measures of the rival teams in the football League competition? Has he been spending hours of playtime, and of school-time too when he has got the chance, in playing imaginary cricketmatches on paper, or football matches on his school-desk, with paper pellets for the ball and inkpots to represent the goal-posts? This is a compara
tively modern form of insanity among small boys, and by no means confined to the active exponents of a game. When among adults so much fuss is made and so much nonsense written about the visits of the Australian cricketers or the benefit matches of popular professionals, the youthful mind is apt to take the infection in a serious form. Again, I am sorry for you, Cornelia. For it is only here and there that the cricket-journalist or the journalist-cricketer is a money-making individual, and the very few who do succeed have a good deal beyond a knowledge of statistics to recommend them. It may be an unfortunate fact that in some Preparatory Schools overmuch stress is laid on the importance of successful game-playing. But is it not also true that in many home-circles game-playing and game-players are the one and only topic of conversation?
"Mind you learn to play with a straight bat, and to let them alone on the off-side, my boy," may have been the last injunction laid upon Boy before he was packed off to school.
But let us give Boy credit for better things than these, Cornelia, and hope that neither the gormandizing mania nor yet the game-playing fever is sapping his intellectual powers. It Is quite on the cards that he has allowed his attention to be overmuch occupied with dreams of better things than mere animal enjoyment. He may be an observant or even, on a small scale, an experimental philosopher, or he may be a budding naturalist. Tom Brown's friend Martin was anything but a fool, even though he did use cribs for his Latin translation and Vulgus for his verses. Of his own subjects, if he did occasionally stink the passage out, he possibly knew more than any master at Rugby could teach him. One of the most artistic boys that I ever met, who could play the piano like an angel and draw figures perhaps better than some members of the Royal Academy, had About as much idea of doing a copy of Latin verses as he might have had of flying over the moon, probably less —for he had some turn for mechanics.
Friar Bungey in the "Last of the Barons," with his "Porkey Verbey," his "hungerabo et perspirabo," was no great Latinist, but a little knowledge of Alchemy brought him to no small honor in the Court of Edward IV.
"Thick? what do you mean?" exclaimed an Eton Master—a man who looked beneath the surface, when speaking of a boy in his house who was anything but a Classical scholar, and, furthermore, spelt the King's English after a method only "to be understanded" of himself; "I call him one of the cleverest fellows in my house."
Subsequent events proved that the master was right, though the boy's cleverness lay in quite different lines from those that commonly pass muster at Eton, and it was an open question at one time whether he would escape superannuation. For in the Third and Fourth forms of our greatest Public Schools cleverness in matters extraneous to the teaching of the Pupil Room is apt to pass unnoticed. In the Public Schools' Year Book, a fairly reliable guide, it may be read that at Eton for Block F—the lowest Block—26 hours in school per week are thus divided: Classics 17, Mathematics 4, French 5; also that "In order to rise from one Block to another, a Boy will be required to pass in Latin Prose, Grammar, and Mathematics severally, as well as in the Classical and General Totals"; finally, that "No Oppidan shall remain in the School who has not been admitted to the Fourth Form before the completion of his 14th year."
I trust that I have made it clear to you, Cornelia, that if his Classics be really very bad, however clever Boy
may be in such outside subjects as natural history and so forth, you may be courting disaster if you persist in your original intention of sending him to Eton, to Winchester, where you are distinctly told that "the course of study is principally Classical," or in short to any Public School where there is a hard-and-fast rule of superannuation.
"But," you may say, "we want him to have a classical education, though he is so backward: we want to send him to Oxford, and then into the Church."
One year, my dear lady, at Eton or one year at Winchester will not do much for him in the way of a classical education, and you most certainly cannot send him to Oxford until he has arrived at years of comparative discretion and knows something more than a smattering of Latin and Greek. Heaven forbid that at fifteen, a most susceptible age, he should be deprived of the salutary discipline of the Public School, and be packed off to one of those excellent and well-meaning gentlemen who advertise their ability to deal with backward boys and refractory pupils. My Utopian Public School is unfortunately as yet in Utopia. There are, nevertheless, in our own country several excellent Public Schools where, even though the course of study is as at Winchester principally classical, Boy, provided that he be not really idle or vicious, may finish the natural course of his school-life. The classical teaching at every Public School in England is pretty good: of course, there are degrees of excellence, and in some it will be better than in others, but it is good enough everywhere for Boy's modest requirements. While it is impossible to guarantee that Boy will in due course become that which is required for him, a university candidate for ordination, a little forethought will ensure for you the satisfaction of feel